The Queensland Maroons team for Origin 3 has been named, with a selection shock in the halves: despite his excellent club form, Daly Cherry-Evans has been passed over in favour of Ben Hunt for the position vacated by the injured Johnathan Thurston.
Hunt is the second debutant in the squad, with Melbourne Storm utility Cameron Munster also named to make his first appearance in Maroon in the decider at Suncorp Stadium next Wednesday.
The biggest pitfall I anticipate for Slater is if he tries to overplay his hand. Without Thurston, Boyd and Inglis, ‘Billy The Kid’ might understandably be feeling the pressure to pull out a game-deciding performance. But the best games for the Innisfail champion tend to come from constantly nibbling away, stretching defenders and doing all the little things right. Keeping a level head and picking when to hold the ball and when to let it sing will be crucial to his performance.
Has one hand on the Wally Lewis Medal for player of the series – no mean feat for someone playing out wide. Ran for more than 400m in the first two Origin games, which is farther than 70 players in the NRL have managed all season. No I’m not kidding, check it out. From being a player once shown the door by the Broncos, he has been the angel to answer all prayers for Queensland when they’ve found themselves under the pump in this campaign.
You can’t tell me there would be a single opposition player relishing the opportunity of marking Munster in front of a global audience. He will twist and struggle in tackles until he has nothing left to give, which, in a sapping game like Origin, is when half-breaks happen. There would be few players in the NRL with a tick over 50 first grade games who could claim to be as comfortable and commanding as Munster is under the spotlight.
Although his defensive reads weren’t spot-on in Game 2, I had Chambers chalked down as my man-of-the-match performer until he knocked himself out late in the piece. He was taking the toughest rucks out of Maroon territory when they needed it most. He mightn’t have amassed as many metres or tackle busts as others, but nobody ran harder or bobbed up as much when troops were thin on the ground. Deserves to be featuring in his first Rugby League World Cup.
Will definitely find himself tested early after spilling a ball in the opening minutes of Game 2, but will no doubt double-bolt his grip if he has learnt from his mistake. A prospective dry track in Brisbane would better suit the blistering speed and evasion of Holmes, though he didn’t do a lot wrong in his debut. This is a prime opportunity to mark himself as a perennial contender for the Queensland squad if he can help them pull off an against-the-odds victory.
The greatest debate at backyard gatherings around Queensland is no longer between barbecue and tomato sauce – it’s whether Morgan should start or come off the bench. There’s no doubt he’s earnt his dues, but does he have the combinations and command to help steer the side for a full 80 minutes? Is his kicking game strong enough? Would Queensland surrender one of the aces up its sleeve by playing him for a full 80min? You can probably guess which way I’m leaning.
That Queensland is still rated a chance in hell of winning this contest says something very profound about Cronk. While the Cowboys have often been rudderless without Thurston, Cronk gives you an auto-navigation system that can be relied upon in the greatest of emergencies. There are so many storylines to this year’s series that it’s distracted us that this could well be Cronk’s last campaign. His winning percentages for Queensland (71%), Australia (88%) and Melbourne (69%) are telling.
I don’t know if I’m being unduly unrealistic, but I still believe Napa has more to show. I know a lot of people felt he helped turn the game when he returned in the second half of Game 2, but I’ve been waiting in anticipation of a Napa blitzkrieg in the opening exchanges. The Blues feel entitled to being the bully boys up front with their more vaunted props, but gee it’d be nice to see that thrown back in their faces before a packed Lang Park.
Seeing Smith still chugging along without long-time partner Thurston is like Murtaugh carrying on without Riggs in Lethal Weapon. You know he’s going to give his everything, and he’s got plenty of tricks for an old dog, but will he have enough left in the tank? You’d be foolish to write him off after a commanding performance against the Broncos on Friday and a much-improved Game 2. For an old codger, his on-field vision remains amazing.
Two runs in 22 minutes in his Origin debut placed Wallace in the crosshairs of some critics, but he didn’t appear to be shirking the work when the game was watched live. Indeed, he had really strong contact in collisions and both his runs showed determined leg drive. Because he’s almost 26, maybe people expected him to be a lot less tentative than, say, Coen Hess? Has Steve Price-like qualities and we all know what a warrior he became for Queensland despite his initial doubters.
Gave Queensland another sorely-needed backrower capable of big minutes in Game 2. Ran for 108 metres and made 47 tackles. Doesn’t appear to have the explosiveness of several years back, but will keep turning up to do the job. There were a few times in the last encounter when he looked gassed on his feet, but he dug deep to somehow stay on the field and competing. Carrying the Cowboys captaincy in the absence of Thurston, he’ll need to lead by example in this game too.
One unexpected positive for Queensland is that Gillett has not shown his best in the first two matches of the series. That leaves a degree of improvement to combat what will undoubtedly be a rejuvenated New South Wales effort. Testament to his all-round game, he has notched more than 30 tackles and ten hit-ups in his last four club games for the Broncos. Played every minute of the first two Origin games and plays 80 minutes for his club most weeks. Is his potency being blunted?
Pulled out a monster effort in Game 2, chalking up 49 tackles in just 63 minutes on the park, not to mention a bustling line break that helped swing the game. For a guy that still in many ways seems like a new kid on the block, he is inching closer to 200 games in the NRL and the experience is showing in the maturity of his play. Has not committed an error in the first two games, has minimised his missed tackles to less than five per cent and conceded just the one penalty.
One of the best aspects of rugby league is you’re only ever usually a couple of days away from your next chance to make amends. In the case of Hunt, he’s gone from playing State League with the Ipswich Jets to selection for the Maroons in a month. Having Hunt and Morgan gives the team great versatility and, if one is granted a roving commission, presents the option of regularly forming a dangerous ‘diamond’ formation in attack with Smith, Cronk and Slater. Hunt already has three Test appearances for Australia under his belt.
An old footy mate swears Papalii put on five kilos between halftime and fulltime of Game 2. He’s certainly looking more ‘robust’ and he never seemed to wind up to top speed in his last Maroons effort. Is he carrying a nagging injury or slacked off in the fitness department? Maybe he was uncomfortable with the new role, being moved in closer to the dummy-half, but he has every attribute to make a pronounced impact no matter where he plays in the forwards.
Plenty were questioning why Hess only received 19 minutes in Game Two, but it’s often the case in a player’s Origin debut that they have to bide their time. Certainly he didn’t look overawed or out of his depth and thoroughly deserves to be in the mix again. Now that his thoughts can turn from surviving the sense of occasion and speed of the game towards tactical matters, he’ll have more of a chance to exploit his wonderful talents against some of the Blues defensive frailties on the edges.
I feel like the selection of Glasby is along the same lines as the script for Married at First Sight. Okay selectors, so you’ve already made the daring plunge to go with him in front of a large television audience. You can’t really turn around after one night together and say you were underwhelmed and want this thing annulled can you? Did well in Game 2 at slowing down the ruck within the laws of the game, despite his highlighted misses in defence, where he wasn’t greatly helped by the men alongside him.